#StopTheCharmOffensive. As hashtags go it didn’t exactly set the Twitter world on fire this week. But that wasn’t the point. The point was who created the hashtag – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
As diplomats from the so-called P5+1 (The United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, France and Germany) sat down this week to negotiate a deal with Iran over its nuclear program, Israel was left on the sidelines. Netanyahu took to the newly-public microblogging site to make sure his nation's interests were heard. And he aimed his message - that Iran's new "moderate" face is not to be trusted - squarely at President Obama and all Americans.
Over two days, just before the nuclear talks in Geneva were due to begin, Netanyahu posted a series of pictures showing demonstrators in Tehran burning an American flag and carrying posters reading “Down with USA”. And he implored his nearly 200,000 followers to, “Retweet and Keep the Pressure On,” and, “Retweet and show the Real Face of #Iran.”
On the other side, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani used the same social media format to claim his country is serious about talks.
So now the app we use to show our friends what we’re eating, share with the world new tricks our dog just learned, and discuss the finale of "Breaking Bad" has become a tool for world leaders negotiating, or staking out positions on, the world’s most pressing problems? Seems that way.
The #newdiplomacy was hailed by America’s newest billionaire, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, when Rouhani first began tweeting back in September. Costolo wrote, via a Tweet of course, “I feel like i'm witnessing a tectonic shift in the geo-political landscape reading @HassanRouhani tweets. Fascinating."
And it certainly is fascinating. But can it possibly be a good thing? Nuclear negotiations in 140 characters? Video victories in six seconds? Border tweaks on Twitter?
The folks at Twitter think so. A senior Twitter employee, who asked not be identified because he works directly with the diplomatic community, told us that the strength of the medium for world leaders lies in the fact that it connects leaders with average citizens and average citizens with leaders in a conversation.
“It’s the global town square,” the employee said, “It puts everyone on a level playing field.” He likened Twitter to a return to “retail politics” where a TV interviewer or other moderator is taken out of the equation and everyone can talk directly. Of course, as the employee also said, having access to Twitter is like having a constant open microphone, so leaders have to weigh their words just as carefully.
But diplomats and leaders around the world are using this new tool with increasing frequency, at the very least to start a conversation. Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. Ambassador to the UN, told us Twitter has undoubtedly become “another tool for diplomacy.” He said it obviously doesn’t enable diplomats to get into the minutiae needed to get things done but that it, “can be an instrument for breaking the ice.”
If Netanyahu’s Twitter account is anything to go by, he’s using it less to break the ice, and more to shatter the rose tinted glasses he feels others are wearing when it comes to Iran. On Friday, as negotiators moved closer to an initial deal with Iran, he tweeted, “The Iranians are very satisfied right now, as they should be. They got everything, and paid nothing.”
As Khalilzad said, there may be some missing minutiae in a Tweet. But even without a seat at the negotiating table, Netanyahu got his message out to the world. #thenewdiplomacy.